How Do Dogs Control Body Temperature?

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Dogs are able to control their body temperature with the help of thermoregulatory mechanisms. Evaporation from panting is one of them. Dogs also make use of conduction, convection, radiation and fur to control their temperature.

A dog's normal body temperature is between 101 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Larger dogs' temperatures tend to be closer to 102 degrees on average, and smaller dogs' temperatures tend to be closer to 101 degrees.

Cooling by Evaporation

Liquid is changed to vapor during the process of evaporation. Unlike humans whose entire bodies sweat to cool off by evaporation, dogs only sweat through their paws, which does little to help them stay cool. Instead, dogs make use of evaporation by panting. When a dog breathes in moisture through his nose, the moisture collects his body heat. The body heat is released when the dog exhales through his mouth. Panting increases the amount of evaporation. On the other hand, if a dog needs to stay warm in cold weather, he will breath in and out through his nose to keep his body heat in.

Cooling or Warming by Conduction

Conduction is a process that transfers heat from one object to another through contact when there is a difference in temperature between the objects. When a dog lies on a cool surface, such as a tile floor, heat is transferred from his body to the floor through conduction to help him cool off. Dogs also use conduction to warm up by lying on a warm surface.

Cooling by Convection

Through the process of convection, heat is transferred away from a dog's body when air passes over it. When a dog sits in natural outdoor breezes or in front of airflow from a fan, he is cooling his body temperature by convection.

Cooling or Warming by Radiation

Radiation is the process that occurs naturally when a body releases heat into the environment. The heat transfer does not require contact between the heat source and the heated object. Dogs benefit from radiation in two ways. Excess heat radiates from their bodies to help them stay cool in hot weather, and in cold weather, they are warmed by objects that radiate heat.

Fur as a Thermoregulator

Fur also helps to regulate a dog's body temperature by preventing body heat loss and protecting a dog's body from excessive heat gain. In cold weather, fur provides insulation that traps body heat to keep dogs warm. Fur also acts as a shield for protection from the heat of summer. As a shield, fur blocks sun and heat from reaching a dog's skin, which slows heat absorption.

Warning

  • Veterinarians do not recommend shaving dogs' fur in the summer because it can make them hotter.

Additional Considerations

  • Thermoregulatory mechanisms are not as effective for young and elderly dogs.
  • Weight interferes with thermoregulation; overweight and obese dogs are more sensitive to heat than healthy dogs.  
  • Dog breeds with fur built for cold weather have more difficulty in the heat. Alaskan malamutes, chow chows and Siberian huskies are some of the cold weather breeds.
  • Dog breeds with short snouts, such as bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers, also have difficulty with heat because their facial structure does not allow for efficient heat dissipation through panting. 

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